Industrial Revolution and Labor Relations

One of the immediate effects of the Second Industrial Revolution on American labor (as well as on labor in other nations experiencing a similar level of industrialization) is that the implementation of machine technology effectively rendered artisans and craftsmen obsolete in the economy. This is not due to any inherent shortcomings of their skills, but rather a devaluation of them in light of a preference of material output over quality.

Cowan (1997) observes that machine-operators could duplicate the daily output of artisans and craftsmen within mere hours. The mechanical engineer Frederick Taylor expanded on the principles of industrialization by deconstructing production down to a component model in order to reduce output efficiencies. The result is that rather than manufacturing whole products, factories were designed around the concept of dividing labor among workers, earning smaller rates to manufacture goods piece by piece for assembly later, effectively permitting greater gains in the efficiency of production.

Angel (1999) contends that the resulting devaluation of skilled labor had huge social implications upon labor. Production employed women and children, as exemplified by Samuel Slater, the textile industrialist who favored employing children within his factories. (Eckilson, 2003) A ‘deskilled’ industrial economy meant that laborers were more expendable than their predecessors, and Angel charges that this meant a move from a moral system, where industrialists fostered relationships with their employees to incur loyalty, to a system which valorized efficiency instead. As such, the relationship between factory owners and their employees was much more distant because the latter were far more replaceable.

This fundamental change in labor relations necessitated the formation of labor organizations as a means to consolidate individual workers into a group that had enough economic and political leverage against their employers to protect their interests, without which current laws against child labor, workday restrictions and other forms of restriction against the terms of employment that they were allowed to mandate would not exist.


Cowan, R. S. (1997) A Social History of American Technology. Oxford University Press: New York.

Angel, J. (1999, May) “The Machine Question.” Thoughts on Technology, edited by Jen Angel & Theo Witsell. Small Publishers Co-Op: Sarasota, Florida.

Eckilson, E. (2003, July 19) “Samuel Slater: Father of the American Industrial Revolution.” Woonsocket Connection. Retrieved August 27, 2008 from:

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